For here's the rub. If the Canadian government were using its "kangaroo courts" as a deliberate ploy to syphon off Muslim rage or to guide it into proper bureaucratic (and happily nonviolent) channels, then we could perhaps admire it for its prudence and cunning. But suppose these commissions and tribunals are not a cunning charade, designed to hoodwink ill-tempered Muslims into becoming good litigious Anglo-Saxons? What if the Canadian government actually thought that it could help matters by cracking down on writers like Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn, by fining them or by throwing them into prison, silencing those who have the courage to speak of Islam, while encouraging Muslim immigrants to feel that they can manipulate weak-kneed governments into stifling any criticism of their religion and culture? Obviously this naive approach would backfire disastrously, and would end by endangering the very domestic tranquillity that it was trying to preserve.
Of one thing we can have no doubt: Short of a firing squad, there is nothing that the Canadian government can do that will have any effect on what Ezra Levant or Mark Steyn will say and write in the future. You couldn't have picked worse people to try to cow. But unfortunately, it is the nature of the nanny state to bring up citizens who have been trained not to rock the boat. Under a nanny regime, the good citizen is one who is reluctant to speak his mind merely out of fear of what other people might think. For people already this cowed, even the threat of a minor bureaucratic hassle would be a powerful argument for keeping one's mouth shut, and for standing by while our hard-won liberty of discussion is steadily eroded. Canada still has uncowable men like Levant and Steyn; but where will such men come from a generation hence?
Even worse, the threat of ongoing legal action, carried out in a number of different Canadian provinces, might be more than enough to keep less well-known writers and smaller news outlets from exposing themselves to the risk of legal costs that a magazine like Maclean's can afford to take. When faced with the threat of an endless hassle, draining away limited personal resources, many writers will simply take the safer course of not saying anything offencive about Islam. But since it is difficult to say in advance what will be offencive to men like Soharwardy, the safest course will be to say nothing at all. In short, gagging Canadians may not take a generation. It may work in a matter of a few months.
And is it just Canada that we are talking about? After all, if enough Muslims continue to react with violence to criticism of their religion and culture, all the other nations of the West will eventually be forced to make a tragic choice between two of our highest values. Either we must clamp down on critics of Islam, mandating a uniform code of political correctness, or else we must let the critics say what they wish, regardless of the consequences, and in full knowledge that these consequences may include the death of innocents. This is not a choice that the West has had to face since the end of our own furor theologicus several centuries ago, but, like it or not, it is the choice that we are facing again today.
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Lee Harris is the author, most recently, of The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam's Threat to the West.